In one of the Greetings at Mass you may remember, the presiding priest makes reference to the particular gift that each of the Persons of the Trinity offers to us. He says (echoing St. Paul), “The grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God (i.e., the Father), and the koinonia of the Holy Spirit be with you.” The gift connected to each Person is no accident: The Holy Spirit offers us – koinonia. What is that?
(The translators have a problem here: the Greek word has no exact equivalent in English, so they used to settle – in the official translation used until a few years ago – for “fellowship.” But no one’s happy with the word; it’s too weak, and sexist besides. One scholarly suggestion is that we coin a phrase to describe the Spirit’s gift, and say, “…the in-betweenness of the Holy Spirit…” Because the gift of the Spirit is about connection.)
My own preference – which, amazingly, was adopted by the translators of the current text – has always been to rehabilitate an old English word that we still use, but rarely in this context: We might say that the Spirit’s gift is – communion (as in a “communion of mind and heart” in a marriage or friendship). I like the resonance because we also use the word at Mass to describe the Sacrament that unites us: the “Holy Communion” is both the consecrated bread and wine of the Eucharist, and also the communion of the baptized who gather around the altar. The ability to gather in Christ is the Spirit’s gift – and not only at Mass.
The Holy Spirit’s gift of koinonia/communion was understood by Christ’s first followers as perhaps the most vital gift they had received. If you read the letters of the first Christians, or the Acts of the Apostles, you’ll see all the effort that went into maintaining the “bond of unity” or “bond of peace” with other (sometimes very different and occasionally very disagreeable) other believers. Tragically, the churches haven’t been very successful over the centuries in doing this same thing, and we now live with splintered “communions” in Christ – something of a contradiction.
But closer to home is the issue of koinonia/ communion in our own homes and parish. We may not be able to re-unify the Christian churches, but we probably can see places we’ve made a sort of peace with a disagreement or a split between ourselves and someone else. We can notice suspicion and guessing about (usually bad) motives when we disagree with people. All of these things are contradictions to the gift of the Spirit we celebrate today. This doesn’t mean we can’t disagree with people, even oppose their ideas or behavior when we judge them wrong; but it does require that we never forget, and even make central in our minds, that we are united in Christ even with our disagreements. We can’t afford to spurn the Spirit’s gift, however uncomfortable it may make us. Until next week, Peace.